Doctor Anthony Fauci believes the return of sporting events to the daily life of Americans could be closer than ever.
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on Wednesday outlined how a sports league, particularly Major League Baseball, could start its season, perhaps by July, if it adhered closely to a two-pronged plan.
The fans would stay at home and watch the beamed and streamed games on their televisions and computer screens.
The athletes would need to be tested regularly for coronavirus and stay quarantined for the duration of the shortened season, shuttling between the team hotel and empty stadiums and arenas.
The sports “bubble” plan is likely the only one offered yet that has a chance to be realized.
With virtually the entire global sports industry shut down by the pandemic in the middle of March, the appetite for the resumption of major sports likely would be intense, with Fauci, the former captain of his Regis High School (N.Y.) basketball team, counting himself as a fan eager to watch games.
“People say you can’t play without spectators, well, I think you’d probably get enough buy-in from people who are dying to see a baseball game,” said Fauci in an interview with Snapchat’s Peter Hamby on the platform’s “Good Luck America” program. “Particularly, me, I’m living in Washington, we have the world champion Washington Nationals. I want to see them play again.”
The endorsement from Fauci, who has earned widespread respect and praise for his science-based and plain-spoken updates during White House press briefings as well as his frequent appearances on a variety of media forums, will carry weight as the professional leagues and owners try to salvage nearly lost seasons without sacrificing public safety.
After both the Fauci interview and an afternoon conference call between President Trump and sports leaders across the country, including Patriots owner Robert Kraft and all the major sports commissioners, Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs said it was “very possible” the NHL could return, in some form.
“While it’s highly speculative, I remain hopeful and think it’s very possible for us to have the game back in some form or another,” Jacobs said. “The health and safety of our players and fans is of course our number one priority.”
Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy was grateful for the positive outlook.
“Fauci has become a bit of an iconic figure and a hero to many of us right now and we’re hanging on every word — we need optimism and hope right now,” Kennedy said. “It’s obviously great to hear those comments. Broadly, I think it’s great that sports are being discussed as part of the potential healing process for the country but the [baseball] commissioner has made it very clear publicly and privately that we’re not going to do anything until the current health conditions change and it’s appropriate to play.
“We are working behind the scenes feverishly on many, many ideas but we don’t have any firm plans whatsoever.”
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred told the Associated Press, “I think it’s incumbent upon us to turn over every stone to try to play the game in 2020 if there’s any way we can in the environment.”
One MLB source said, “We have no choice but to pursue games behind closed doors. The commissioner has been outlining publicly what the difficulties are — it’s logistically a very, very complicated scenario, but what other choice(s) do we have?”
In an interview with NBC Sports, Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout gave the “bubble” idea mixed reviews, saying players were eager to return as soon as it was safe. But the thought of quarantining players from their families would not go over well.
“My wife is pregnant — what am I going to do when she goes into labor, am I going to have to quarantine for two weeks after I come back, because obviously I can’t miss the birth of our first child,” Trout said. “There’s a lot of red flags, a lot of questions.”
In his daily news conference, Trump referenced his call and the desire to restart sports.
“We want the country open again, we want to have our sports leagues open, you want to watch sports, it’s important, we miss sports — we miss everything, we want to get back,” Trump said.
One plan for the return of baseball would be for teams to return to spring training sites in Florida and Arizona and play out the season there, with the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues replacing the American and National leagues.
The governors in each state, Doug Ducey in Arizona and Ron DeSantis in Florida, have expressed willingness to host teams in their states, with DeSantis deeming all sports as “essential businesses.”
In the Snapchat interview, Fauci was blunt about how to restart the games: “Nobody comes to the stadium.
“Put [the players] in big hotels, wherever you want to play, and keep them very well surveilled,” he said. “But have them tested like every week and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family, and just let them play the season out.”
According to Golf Digest, the PGA Tour has plans to announce this week that it will resume in June, with the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Conn., keeping its June 25-28 dates. The Northern Trust at TPC Boston has been moved to Aug. 20-23.
Michael Silverman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.